Hi, My name is Samantha!

My uncle was an addict for as long as I could remember. The day he died I wasn’t close to him, I was in school and he was in the Calgary hospital. I hadn’t seen him, let alone talked to him, in months. When I was younger he would have good times, when he would work and spend time with us. Time where he would pull himself together for even just a small bit, and as I grew older those times quite quickly became less and less. However, in those times, I grew close to him. He was a good guy, just stuck. Despite this, when I found out he died, I didn’t cry. I really felt almost nothing. It was like those memories were locked in a box without me realizing, and I kept going like nothing had happened.

After he passed, my grandma went into the hospital for gastrointestinal surgery. Her surgery went fine, but during recovery, she got an infection. She stayed in the hospital for a month, and we were all scared for her. Even when she was released, we were still always worried. 

Things started to stack. Everything was fine for a while, as all the struggles were tucked tight behind the mental walls I created. But cracks were starting to show. At first, I called it ‘stress’ when anyone asked, but it soon grew past that point. 

I started struggling in my classes, which is something that I have always cared greatly about. I would doubt myself to the point that I couldn’t do my work, leaving me in tears, or escaping class for a quick ‘bathroom’ break. I fell behind, and although I still managed passing marks that didn’t stop it from affecting me. 

My best friend at the time and I also began getting into arguments. We had been friends for years, so as we began arguing more it put a huge weight in my chest. My anxiety really blew up in this time, I had always been a more anxious person throughout my whole life but it blew out of control. I would have trouble focusing, leaving me all over the place and unorganized. I would always be overthinking about something or trying to escape it, leaving me drained.

The thing is, you can’t wall yourself off and run from it forever; eventually, it will come out. I learned this the hard way. Like a dam breaking, things that were hidden overflowed and my mental walls collapsed, sending me spiraling into a pit. Overwhelmed, drained, and lost, it was all too much for me. Despite having people around, I began to feel so alone, no matter where I was or what I was doing. People were trying to help, and some part of me recognized that, but another part refused to accept it. That’s when I made the decision. I started cutting myself.

It started slowly at first but soon grew into a dangerous daily struggle. I was cutting at least once a day, usually more. As it grew, it began to feel more normal for me. Some part of me knew it was concerning, but another part didn’t really care. Countless times I woke up the next day after passing out on my bedroom floor, a total mess. It scared me, but some part of me still didn’t care. I still don’t know how to explain what I got from doing it. Maybe it was temporary relief, maybe some sense of control, or maybe I felt like I deserved it. It feels like it was most likely bits of each of these and more. Each day just seemed to be another dark day, I would be in so much pain and so drained, with a lack of strength to go on. I began having a bad dissociation problem and would space out at random times. I never have any memories from these chunks of time.

For a short time, I started seeing a therapist. It didn’t seem to work for me, nothing she did helped. I realize now that it wasn’t because of her though, it was because of my mindset. Because, despite what I claimed, I had no reason to try. I would wake up every day with the same pain, and I had no reason to fight it. To do something you need a why, if you don’t then you won’t give it your best shot. If you don’t have a why then even if you have all the strategies in the world the chances of you going to actually try your best are low. That is what I lacked; I felt like I had no reason. After a few months of working with her, my therapist abruptly disappeared from my life for personal reasons. This was hard, despite us only having worked together briefly. I would rarely open up completely to people, and very few knew what I was actually like behind all the masks and acting. I’m great at acting, at being who others need me to be so they don’t leave. Her leaving made my fear of being abandoned intensify.

My eating habits fell apart. I would constantly skip meals or just forget to eat, which my anxiety (and mood, all of it) never reacted well to. I would get mentally and physically drained so fast. I also always was there for people, no matter what I would push my own needs aside to be there for them. I would push myself to my limits and far beyond, which were already drained from my own struggle, to help them. To the point where I would tear myself apart to help them. I would stay up all night to be there for someone, and If I wasn’t doing that, I was either relentlessly overthinking, or staying up trying to avoid overthinking, so my sleep took a dive too.

My self-harming only worsened. Spreading even more around my body, and the cuts became worse. My will to keep fighting only grew dimmer and dimmer, classes only became harder and I started distancing myself from everyone. I was crumbling, barely keeping myself going. I was hurting everyone around me, and I was convinced I didn’t deserve them. I was still so scared of losing them, but also felt like I deserved it. 

My first suicide attempt happened soon after this. The idea was by no means a new thing in my mind, I had thought about it for a while. Ways to just give up, I felt like I had no reason so why was I trying? But I just never acted on those thoughts till then. It was late at night, and everyone was asleep. I don’t remember much of that night, but it was so dark. I remember waking up the next morning on the floor still alive and unnoticed. The pain of having to clean myself up, while completely drained, and go to school to make it seem like nothing was wrong; I had no clue how I was able to do that, or why I was still alive. It wasn’t my last suicide attempt either, I tried twice more after that. Luckily I’m still here.

I had a strong mind; I had been told by someone close to me that they knew I could fight and knew I would get better. (I thought they were crazy) But it wasn’t that I was weak or useless like my internal voices told me; It was that I felt I had no reason. 

Shortly after my third suicide attempt, a wonderful woman came into my life. She is truly amazing and became an important part of my life and my recovery. I started to wake up and want to keep going, to give it my best, and see the good. I stopped seeing every day as a burden and full of negativity, and with more positivity. My eating habits slowly became better, and I stopped purposefully skipping meals. I also decided to give therapy another try, and I’m excited to say that it’s been helping; my therapist has connected me with the strategies I need and I have a reason to keep working at it.

My self-harm slowly started to decrease, reducing from multiple times a day to once. I remember when she found out about my cutting, she was so kind about it. Although she was concerned and wanted me to be safe, it didn’t change how she thought of me. She asked me to promise that I would try as hard as I could to not cut, and stay safe. It was the first promise with my self-harm involved that I gave an honest effort to keep.  Eventually, I made the decision to throw away all harming methods I had, it wasn’t an easy decision and parts of me still tried to go back to it on hard days. Each time something stopped me, however, and I was able to keep away from it. The idea of harming myself again began to scare me more as I distanced myself more from the habit. I remember the one time I got close to doing it, and she found out. I remember how her face fell before she realized I hadn’t cut. I didn’t want to let her down like that. 

Another important part of this whole process was learning that my mental illness and struggles did not define me. I wasn’t my anxiety, it was just a small part of me. I had to learn that it was okay to try to get better, I wasn’t doing anything wrong by asking for the help I needed. That I wasn’t less than anyone else, I was just as important and just as worthy of the help. To ask for help when I was finally ready to accept it wasn’t as easy as it may sound. I had to go against what I had told myself for years, I was scared of not being accepted.

I started to work to improve, not only my cutting but all of it. I had finally found my reason for staying alive and was willing to fight. She helped me believe in myself again. No matter how hard it was going to be, I finally wanted to keep going another day, to do so much with my life. For the first time in what felt like forever, I finally became happy to be alive.

I’ve been clean from cutting for over eight months now.

That doesn’t mean everything is easy. None of this went away overnight. I still have scars. I still have days where the urge to hurt myself surfaces. It’s almost like an instinct, and although I don’t cut anymore, it sometimes shows in other, smaller ways. One thing I still do is pick or scratch at my neck, or arms, and leave bruises. I still struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. Even in the struggle, I see improvements. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and I’m willing to keep challenging these habits and learn to cope better.

I think a lot of people are ashamed of their mental health, and self-harm scars. It’s hard to ask for help and to let go of the dark shame and stigma around it. I had the idea to paint my self-harm scars gold and make them a thing of beauty. I wanted to help myself feel better in my own skin. I hope by sharing some of these images, this idea, I can help shine some light on the problems with how people think of mental health, be able to speak my mind, and hopefully give others courage. I hope to grow this project and empower others, which of course is why I fell in love with Project Nightlight.                                        

My battle is not over, and it may never be. But because I finally have a reason, now I can see all the amazing things and people around me. All the people I care about, all the things I want to do and see. I am starting a new section of my life, opening up so many opportunities. I get to do things like trying to speak out for mental health and what I believe in, to be a part of bigger things. Creating myself as I go along. I found life has so many beautiful parts, and even if it’s hard sometimes, it is worth it to go on.

I hope by sharing my story, you can see it too.